Pedalling in paradise
311km Pratchuap Kiri Khan to Paknam Lang Suan
It’s our fifth wedding anniversary and we couldn’t have picked a better place to be. It’s like we planned to have a whole coastline to ourselves on this special day. In fact, it’s just one of those wonderful days on tour: full of beautiful scenery, quiet roads and a cute little bungalow that showed up just as our legs were getting tired.
The seafood restaurant went down a treat too. You’d hardly recognise it as a restaurant from the road; just a few tables set on the beach but no sign and only the family who run the place sitting in the yard. The food is so good though as far as we’re concerned it deserves a few Michelin stars. Why isn’t the whole world here? At first we don’t really know what to order but using sign language and a bit of broken Thai we’ve picked up along the way we come up trumps with a spicy fish soup and a fish curry plus two beers to wash down our feast. The bill doesn’t even touch $10 and as we watch the waves lap up on shore we think to ourselves that we might just have found paradise.
It’s a far cry from the beaches in Thailand that we envisioned. We expected big resort hotels and bars stuffed with drunk patrons but there’s no sign of that here. Oh sure, there’s the occasional luxury bungalow but mostly the tourists – all of them Thai – are far outnumbered by the palm trees and we can stop several times of day with a whole beach to ourselves. Full of fish, we go to bed two very happy cyclists.
The next day starts out less inspiring with a ride into Chumphon, the biggest town in the area. Our first impression is one of concrete everywhere. We half heartedly ask at a hotel for a place to stay but we can’t really find a good reason to hang around so we start out again, after a quick stop at the supermarket where one young woman is reading out the in-store specials live to a karaoke soundtrack. She rattles on the whole time we are there, mixing the deals on bananas with rap music. How can she do that all day long, we wonder, as we hit a rare stretch of busy highway. Thankfully there’s a wide shoulder and it doesn’t last long. We find a cheap roadside hotel and bed down for the night, just as the thunderstorms close in.
Soon we’re back on the quiet roads and by the water again. Aside from the scenery, our attention is diverted by all the people going by with monkeys as passengers. One passes on a motorbike, then three or four in the back of a truck. A second scooter goes by, again with a monkey on board, staring back at us as the bike passes. Do they use them to collect the coconuts from the tall palm trees perhaps? The monkeys are surprisingly docile but always chained and we can’t help but feel sad for such intelligent animals to be held captive.
The birds don’t seem to have much of a chance at freedom here either. Many homes and shops have a bird in a cage out front, sometimes stunningly beautiful tropical birds with colourful feathers that just take your breath away. In one small fishing village, we see several houses with over a dozen cages each hanging from the front porch and the chorus carries several homes down the lane.
It’s Monday night when we reach the town of Paknam Lang Suan. It’s not even marked on our map but this seaside stop turns out to be a highlight of our time in Thailand. For starters, we had the best iced coffee ever and for only 10 Baht so that always lifts the spirits! We took our drink down to the water and watched the fishing boats going out for a night’s work, dozens of Thais out jogging or riding their bikes by the water – we’ve never seen a Thai town so keen on exercise as this one – and yet more families having picnics in the town’s many parks. As the sun dropped lower in the sky, a group of boys gathered to practice their jumps into the water from a pier. Again, there wasn’t a foreign tourist to be seen. How could they all have missed this gem?